An all-star cast, including Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Andre Braugher bring the next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my screening of The Red Badge of Courage.
Based on the letters by Robert Gould Shaw, played in the film by Broderick, the film follows the Union’s first all black volunteer company. Not only do Shaw and his men fight the Confederacy, but also the prejudices that permeate both sides of the battle.
Realistically filmed, the battles are brutal, bloody and intense, but the emotion of the characters is what draws you in and truly holds your attention. The film took home three Oscars, Best Supporting Actor (Washington in a brilliant turn), Cinematography and Sound.
I’d seen this one years ago, and was eager to rewatch it for the blog. I’d enjoyed it the first time around, but this time, I was completely wowed. I don’t know why it was such a powerful experience for me this time around, but I was completely captivated by the film.
Here are these men, recently freed slaves, fighting against hatred, fighting for freedom and the impact this time around…
Washington is amazing. That’s a given, the man hasn’t turned in a bad performance in his life, no matter the script. But Freeman, Elwes, Broderick, there isn’t a bad role in this film, and not a single one of them is miscast.
Seeing what these men had to experience, not only through their training but, through the belief throughout the Union army that they weren’t even good enough to fight. But the men, prove themselves over and over again, and once they are allowed to fight, they show that they are willing to lay down their lives for their cause.
One can’t help but associate Broderick with his iconic role of Ferris Bueller, but he makes the role of Shaw his own, adding a humanity and emotion to the depth of his performance. His interactions with his childhood friend Thomas (Braugher) are exceptional, as they move from friends, to CO and enlisted man, back to friends.
The battle sequences aren’t played for thrills, they are to convey the gritty reality of the events these men, these volunteers, found themselves in. The film’s beauty, and intensity is augmented by Zwick’s sure directorial hand, and beautiful score by James Horner.
The story, grounded in actual events, and supported by Shaw’s letters, shows some of the terrible events of the Civil War, and brings the horrors of war to the forefront, reminding us of the terrible things that are done, and how amazing these men must have been to volunteer to serve in the first place.
A simply stunning film, that will probably get a rewatch (or three) by me in the near future.